Friday, January 5, 2018

to the girls of Sue Mitchell's girl scout troop

An open letter to the girls of Sue Mitchell’s Girl Scout troop,                                       Jan. 3, 2018

    My heart goes out to each of you as you are dealing with Amber’s death. Having faced death before, I’ve learned a bit about how to live in the life after death. I hope you will let me share.

    First of all, grief is not something you will “get over” or “get through”. Grief is now part of your life’s journey. While she was alive, you were profoundly changed by your relationship with Amber  and now, you are profoundly changed by her death. You cannot go “back to the way it was”, or  “back to normal”. But here is the hope: The pain you feel now will not always be this constant or this sharp. You will find a new normal, a good normal, even, a happy normal.   So how do you do that?

1.  Realize that grief is different than depression, but also realize that you can get “stuck in grief” and with that comes depression.
   Right now, the crying, the loneliness, the ‘sinking into the memories, unable to function kind’ of sadness is typical.  But as time goes by,  you will make a decision, either consciously or unconsciously: Does grief control me, or do I control grief? 

2.  Acknowledge that although grief is a permanent presence in your life, you get to make the rules about what he (grief) can do, and when he can do it. 

3. Beware of the ambushes.  Memories are great, until they come at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and you lose it in the middle of Krogers and strangers wanna call you an ambulance and they don’t understand that your heart is broken, and the ER can’t fix it. 

4. Put your grief in a box.  It’s a bit of embarrassing to have a full blown grief attack at  Krogers, or at work, or in the middle of family Christmas, so what do you do with grief when he wants to run uncontrolled in your life?  You put him in a box.  Not a cardboard box, but a box in your mind. You might think that it would be a good thing to put the lid on tight and never open it because if you do, all the memories and pain and grief will come out. But if you don’t control when that lid comes off, it becomes like a ‘Jack-in-the-box’ and the crank turns and turns and without warning, it pops open and all the contents fly out all over everyone around.
   For a while, keep that box on a low shelf in your mind. Open it a lot.  Open it intentionally, on your terms.  Choose when and how you will grieve. As time goes by, you’ll find that you will open it less and less.  You may feel guilty about that. You might feel like you are forgetting Amber, and that you are dishonoring her memory. But that’s just part of walking your journey.  I remember laying on Emily’s grave about 6 months out.  The guy mowing the cemetery stopped to check on me.  I told him that I felt guilty that I was only coming once a week instead of every day.  He told me “I’ve been watching you.  You’re right on schedule. That’s just the way it is. It means you’re healing up.”  Those words freed me from the obligation to stay stuck in the same spot in my journey.  He freed me from being stuck in grief.  You will always have that box with you, and amazingly, one day when you open that box, you’ll discover that those same memories that cause you so much pain now, have morphed into your prized possession. 

5.  Give your grief a job. Like having a benefit, or writing a note to Adrianna. Like “adopting a kid” in a 3rd world country, or setting up a scholarship, or volunteering to feed the homeless. Easing someone else’s suffering, somehow, eases yours.  And somehow, it will give meaning to a meaningless death. Amber is like a stone thrown into a pond. Her life rippled into ours.   And her ripples will continue with anything you do to honor of her memory.

6. Be gentle with yourself and with others.  Your grief is proportional to the relationship you had with Amber. Just as your relationship with Amber was different from everyone else’s, so your grief will be different as well.  Don’t put expectations on others to grieve the same as you. And don’t expect yourself to grieve the same way others do.  All that will do is to isolate you from the other people who loved Amber, too.

   That's enough for now.  Keep on walking.  And if you find yourself stuck, call me, text me, friend me.  618-889-0587

  I send you love and hugs,


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Two years of Travel Nursing.

There's something alluring about traveling. It’s like a honeymoon.  

Two years of travel nursing.

Two years of being the “new nurse”. Two years of new co-workers and new friends.  Two years of new nursing experiences, tips and techniques.

Two years of being a tourist. Two years of adventures. Two years of new places, new people.

Two years of limbo living in a 34 foot motorhome.  Two years of missing family milestones. Two years of being a visitor at my own family's gatherings.

It’s enough. We’re done. Ray and I have taken off our travel shoes ( for a time).   We are part of a village.  We are committed to the people who are committed to us. And part of that commitment means being present; present in the good times and the hard.  So the motorhome has a “for sale” sign on it and we bought a house near our family.

My heart is content. We’re  home.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Control and Trust

 We watched a movie the other night.  "War Room".  It's about a woman in a failing marriage who learns to pray, to trust God, rather than trust in herself.

 I like to feel like I am in control. I want to have input in any given situation. I want to know who is going to do what, and when and where and how it is going to affect me and mine. Being in control makes me feel safe.

   But really, it comes down to trust.  Who, but I, do I trust take care of me.  As a Christian, I like to say that I trust God, the Father. But in reality, I'm pretty independent in my decision making, and then I ask God to bless my choices. 

   My career move into travel nursing has been a challenge to my need for control.  There are a lot of "unknowns" in this adventure.  But I believe that God sets my feet in the paths I should go. And I believe in divine appointments, those not-so-coincidental meetings that just happen.

   Up to this point, things have gone well.   After each assignment, it's been easy to see why I have been in that particular place at that particular time.  In one place, I was there to help a mother do her birth in the manner she wanted-all natural. In another place, I was there to encourage a mom who unexpectedly gave birth to a baby with Down Syndrome.  In another, I was there to help a family start down their journey of grief after a loss of their baby.   (I am, in no way, saying that without me, these things wouldn't have been done.  There are excellent nurses in each of those hospitals who would have done what I did.  But I am saying that in those situations, God used me to "help in the way that I have been helped.)   And in every assignment,  I have met staff that have blessed me more than I have blessed them.

   But this choice of assignments, is challenging me to really trust God.  Right here, right now, is where  the rubber hits the road.  And that is only figuratively, because Ray and I have chosen not to take a travel assignment this next 13 weeks.  We have a grand baby due to be born within the next week or so and want to spend a few months at home. 

    The plan is that I will pick up shifts at my home hospital.  But the availability of shifts is dependent on high census or low staffing.  And that's something I can't control. AAUUGGHH
  I get this feeling in the pit of my stomach when I am not in control of a situation. That anxiety is the barometer that lets me know when I am not fully trusting God to take care of me.

   Watching that movie was not a coincidence.  It was a divine appointment. God used that movie to show me that even when I think that I have no control of a situation, I still do.  I control my response to that situation.  Am I going to trust in me, or am I going to trust in God?
   This substantial decrease in income is where the "Trust in God" challenge comes in.   I'll let you know how it goes.

    Proverbs 3:5  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding.  He will make your paths straight. 



Friday, October 21, 2016


Tuesday, April 12, 2016


We all live and move within circles.  We have our circle of family.  We have circles of friends and of co-workers.  And we have circles for special interests and special needs.  Our circles are made up of kindred spirits.  We trust the members inside. They are our safety net when we are vulnerable.  But the reality is that our circles are constantly evolving.  People move in and out of our circles depending on the situations in our lives.
When Emily was born, my circle of friends changed. I struggled with the grief that came with having a child with a disability. I had lost my own identity, the mom I used to be before Emily’s birth. I had lost the child I dreamed that Emily would be. I focused on becoming the mom my family needed me to be.  I was abruptly thrown into a circle with other parents who also had children with disabilities. Those people touched our lives with their words and examples. They dispelled my feelings of aloneness. I took support from those in this circle who were there before me and later, I gave support to those who came after me. 
The circles I knew before Emily was born, changed.  Some people slowly drifted out because we no longer shared the same priorities.  And others, I unknowingly pushed away when I put expectations on them. Those expectations put undue pressure on my friends and set me up for self-initiating disappointment. Eventually I learned that just as I get to choose how, and with whom, I walk my journey, they get to choose how, and with whom, they walk their journey. If others choose to continue to walk with me, I am blessed. And if they choose another path, then I am blessed for the time they did walk with me.  
My circles changed again when Emily died.  I desperately did not want to lose the support within the parent’s circle.  As I faced the challenges of finding a new normal, I clung to the familiarity of those relationships. But the focus of raising Emily had necessitated my being in the circle, and when that focus was gone, the need for the circle was gone.  Gradually it became obvious that I no longer belonged there. For the other parents, I, minus Emily, was an all-too-real reminder of the fragility of life. For me, seeing the intact families was a painful reminder of all that I had lost.  It was fully two years after Emily died that I finally sent a note to the Down Syndrome Association of St. Louis and asked them to take me off the mailing list for their monthly newsletter. That notes was the final event that severed my connection from the circle of parents of children with disabilities.
I became part of a different circle – one for parents whose children have died.  Now grief was my daily focus, and it threatened to consume me.  As my journey took me through the swamp of loss, I experienced many “secondary losses” which heaped grief upon grief. I felt like I would drown in it.  I surrounded myself with people who had traveled this road before me.  When I was lost, they gave me direction.   When I was weak, I relied on their strength.  When I was confused, I used their wisdom.  When I despised myself, I soaked in their love.  And in turn, I gave that support to those who came behind me.

It’s now been nine years since Emily died. Now my question is, “How long do I stay in this circle?” The circle where I expect to be sad every day, where I struggle to allow myself to feel joy, where I feel guilty when I am happy, where I disapprove of myself for wanting to move on, and where I never feel that I have done enough penance for my imagined failings as a mother. I have been tempted to succumb to the black holes of anger, despair, and self-loathing,  but now I am ready to step out of that circle.  I am not looking to forget Emily,  or to forget the people who were so significant in our lives. Her presence was so very significant! It was hard and  it was so wonderfully simple. It was great and it was awful. 
 So, I don’t want your pity and I don’t want your sympathy. I trust God to set my feet on the paths that I should go, and to set the right people in those paths to help me along the way. I trust that He knows all about it, and that He has it all in control. I take comfort that this world is not the end of life.   I now belong to a circle in which my focus is on life instead of on death, a circle in which I celebrate life and embrace both the blessings and cursings that I am given.  


One year later

  On October 10th, 2015, Ray and I moved out of our stick-built house and began a journey in travel nursing.  For 12 months now, all of our worldly possessions have fit into a 34-foot motor home and a 10x10 storage unit which holds those few items we can't bear to part with - yet.
  This year, we've put about 2900 miles on the motorhome.  We have parked in 12 campsites and 2 truckstops. We've endured countless detours, enjoyed many adventures and explored the lands and cultures along our routes. We've collected friends and memories and Christmas ornaments.
  I have worked a 13-week nursing assignment in Arlington,Texas, another 13 weeks in Mauston, Wisconsin, and a third 13-week assignment in Columbia, Missouri. I feel a bit like Johnny Appleseed, collecting tidbits and tricks of the trade in one place and spreading it to others.
  There is a trade off in this journey.  The familiar versus the undiscovered,  a comfort-zone versus the uncharted, the expected versus the unknown.
  But the joys outweigh the frustrations, the sweetness surpasses the sours, and the call of the road is stronger than the longing for home. And so, we will continue the journey.
   I feel a bit of kinship with Robert Frost when he wrote this poem:

                                                               The Road not taken
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


















Saturday, February 6, 2016

Why are we here?

    Why are we here?
    The thought still comes to me, not as often as it used to, but still on a daily basis.  Why are we doing this?  Why did we leap outside our comfort zone?   It’s one thing to be forced into change when the unforeseen things happen in our lives.  When the unplanned things happen, we have no choice but to find  “new normal” lives.  But to do it willingly?
     I ask “Why?” when I feel lonely.  I miss Seth’s hug and humor. I miss the sounds of simple joys shared on Granny days.  I miss my friends, those kindred spirits that hold the secrets of my soul and love me despite.
     I ask “Why?” when I feel lost, when I am at work and I’m the ‘new girl’, and the learning curve is steep and I feel stupid.  I used to know where supplies where kept, where other departments were, what the preferences for each doctor was.  I used to be the educator of new nurses and residents and of students. I used to be smart, and I miss that me.
     I ask “Why?” when I feel like I am in limbo-land.  Now, having finished week five of a 13 week contract, I realize that we are almost halfway to picking up and moving to another new city, with another new job, another new grocery store, another new salon, another new everything.
     But a treasured friend reminded me “You can’t have the rainbow without the rain.”  So I turned the coin over and the “Why’s” that were the rain of this adventure, became the rainbow! 
     Being lonely at times means I am blessed to have someone to be lonely for. Social media became a lifeline for connectedness.  Relationships with family and friends are more precious, less taken for granted.  The lyrics from a song from my Girl Scout days goes like this "Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver and the other gold".  I am not replacing jewels, I am collecting more.
     Being the ‘new girl’ means that I am free of the pressure of living up to other people’s expectations  and I’m reminding myself that it’s OK to let someone else be the over-achiever. The challenge of learning keeps me sharp and the hazy dullness that was creeping in my mind is gone.
     My auto-pilot life of daily routines is transformed.  I no longer make a daily things-to-do list that never gets completed. Some days, Ray and I explore the new surrounding and other days we are content to be together in the 34 foot space we now call home. 
     And If you really stretch your imagination, every vehicle has a face.  I’m serious here. The eyes are the windshield and the grill is the mouth.  Yesterday, Ray picked me up from work, and as we pulled into our drive at the campsite, our motorhome smiled at me.   I breathed out the peace I felt, “Ahhh, it is so good to be home”.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

There's no place like home

   There really is no place like home. 
   When Ray and I made the decision that I would become a traveling nurse, we had just an inkling of what all that would entail.  But knowing that it would mean leaving our home, we decided to bring our home with us.  We bought a 34 foot Fleetwood Bounder Motor home and gave away or sold most of our earthly possessions. We rented out our house to cover the cost of the mortgage and moved into the Bounder. 
   Our first campsite was in Herrin, in the same town as our house.    Four Seasons Campground was our RV pre-school.  That’s where we learned how to hook up and tear down the electric, the water and the sewer.  Ray learned how to use the leveler legs to stabilize the camper.  We made many trips back to the house as we figured out what we could and what we couldn’t live without.  We stayed there for 3 weeks.
  All we knew about my first nursing assignment was that it was to be in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas.  The plan was to go to Texas, set up the motor home, and get my Texas RN license.  And while waiting for the final word about at which hospital I would work, we would come back by car to Illinois for Christmas with our family.
    We left Herrin on Dec 12th, 2015.  We drove just 25 miles down the road to Murphysboro, IL. and went to a family birthday party.  We spent the night hooked up at Mudline Lodging. The sunrise was stunning, and we took off with the optimism that comes with not knowing what lies ahead.  Within one mile, the navigation tablet died.   Besides losing the GPS, we lost our entire carefully planned itinerary.  We turned around, picked up a spare GPS and left again.  When we finally stopped in Benton, Arkansas, at the I-30 Travel Park, in the middle of thunderstorm, with wind gusts of 15-20 mph. Ray had wrestled that motor home for almost 9 hours.  We were wet, cold, exhausted and glad to crawl into our own bed.
    The next day, we crossed the state line into Texas and pulled into the Welcome Center.   The sun was bright, the air crisp and clear, and we were just plain giddy with excitement!  Ray got on his hands and knees and kissed the ground. Life was good!
   By 3 pm, we had been turned away from four RV parks because of no-vacancy.   We finally found a spot at “East Fork Park” an Army Corp of Engineers’ campground in Wylie,Tx.  There was water and electric hook up but no sewer and no internet.  And although we were grateful for a place to rest, this would not do for long-term set up. 
   I accepted a 13-week assignment at the Medical Center of Arlington.  We scouted around for campsites and found many within 30 miles of the hospital, but TreeTops quickly became our first choice.  Unfortunately, they had no long-term openings so we were put on a waiting list. 
  We moved the motor home to Dodge City RV park, near Mansfield, TX.  Ray had grown up watching “Gunsmoke” on TV with his grandfather, and living in Dodge City seemed to be a perfect fit.  But, basically,  it was a gravel parking lot for campers with maybe 20 feet between neighbors.  The few trees there, were barely taller than Ray is and the thought of summer without shade was not appealing.   Although Dodge City was only about 15 miles from the hospital, it took almost 30 minutes to get me to work, in traffic up to 4 lanes deep.  And since we were down to only one car, Ray was driving back and forth twice a day.
   Two weeks later, we got the call from TreeTops! We moved on Jan 9th.  We now have a concrete slab and a picnic table, a tree on both the east and west side of the camper, a privacy hedge on the lane side of the camper, and we are within walking distance to the laundry and shower house.  We are within 3 miles of my work, within 2 minutes of a super-Target (groceries) and within 3 minutes of Cooper avenue, the main drag in Arlington.   When we pull into our campground and onto our lane, it is amazingly quiet.  The closest neighbor on the west is across the lane and on the east is an empty lot that one day will be a Rec center, and beyond that is the pool!  We hear the birds sing all day long, and crickets chirp in the evening. The rose bushes are blooming in January. 
    We have pulled this motor home to 6 campgrounds, and it is here that I finally feel like I am home and I have come to realize that home isn’t just about 4 walls and a roof and the stuff inside.  Home is about the place where you feel safe and where you can relax and feel peace. It is the place you share with the one you love.
   I hope that wherever you are, wherever you roam, that when you lay your head on your pillow to sleep, that you have a place that you call home.